Olivia Callaghan works as a producer in a “high energy and very fast-paced field.” PHOTO BY PETER MCDERMOTT
By Peter McDermott
When County Roscommon native Olivia Callaghan traveled to New York in 2016, she landed the perfect job for someone with her passion for music and her academic training – a producer of radio shows with Renegade Nation. That company was founded two decades ago by Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member Steven Van Zandt, who is perhaps best known both for his longtime membership of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band and for his role as Silvio Dante in “The Sopranos.”
It hasn’t been all plain sailing for Callaghan. She took a break back in Ireland when her father Gerry died at age 56 following a short illness in 2017.
Home specifically for the 26-year-old is an area called Drinane, just outside Strokestown on the road to Tulsk. Her mother Teresa owns and manages a health store in Strokestown and the producer has a sister Fiona, who is two years younger.
Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter
Callaghan’s New York City homes away from home, however, are her apartment in Sunnyside, Queens, and the busy Greenwich Village offices of Renegade Nation she commutes to daily. The Echo asked her a few questions about her work.
Your job at Renegade Nation sounds really interesting. Tell us something about how you got there and about your job.
My job is definitely very interesting and exciting. I started with Renegade Nation in 2016 with a graduate-visa 1 year internship and have been happily there since. I am producer for the radio station Little Steven’s Underground Garage SiriusXM 21.
I produce radio shows for an array of DJ’s including Drew Carey, Jesse Malin, Michael Des Barres, Genya Ravan, Manfred Jones and Ko Melina.
Steven also owns a record label Wicked Cool Records, which I also do some work for.
It is a super exciting part of the job, working with and signing various garage-rock bands, setting up shows/tours, and just listening to incredible music.
It’s a high energy and very fast-paced field to work in, and acting as a producer for highly-regarded presenters, musicians and actors is a lot of responsibility. It is also a fairly male-dominated industry, so it is a huge privilege to hold the position I do, which I am grateful for every day.
I guess I got here through my college education and my interest in music and radio.
During the years studying my masters, in which I was the only female in the class, I got my first taste of production paired with the endless possibilities available through music, and I was eager to see where it could take me.
Tell us about your background and influences.
Music has always been my passion since I was young. From the age of 3, I was an Irish dancer, so music and dance have been in my bones since that time. There was always music in our house. My parents Teresa and Gerry were always avid music fans so that was bred into us. I remember dancing in the kitchen when I was younger to Van Morrison, Johnny Cash, Bob Segar, Bruce and Bob Dylan. Many of my cousins were musicians and my grandparents always had us up singing, Irish dancing or playing at family parties, which would always end with my grandad Tom singing an old John McCormack song or 4 or 9!
I guess when I started playing piano and singing at age 6, my love for and interest in music really developed. I really enjoyed the theory and the technicality involved in playing. Growing up I really began to explore the various music genres, and my sister Fiona was a huge part of that as we grew interested in various pop, hip-hop and rap artists. I have always loved both new and old music and the history and politics which came with them.
I attended school in Scoil Mhuire, Strokestown, where I was a member of the school choir for six years and played the lead role in for our school musical “Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” as the singing narrator.
And then you went to college?
I studied at NUI Maynooth and graduated with a BA in music & Irish language studies, and two years later with a MA from NUIM in Creative Music Technology. I have been working in music and radio since leaving college, initially as an intern in Radio Nova, later in Dublin City FM, where I worked for one year as an engineer, creating live and pre-recorded music and talk shows. I even touched on news reading and presenting for a short while, which I really enjoyed. Had I not got involved with radio and music production, I don’t actually know what direction I would have taken – people always told me I would love primary or secondary school teaching but it was never something that called me.
How do you like working in New York City? Do you think you will stay around for a while?
I love living in New York, but I guess like anyone I have a love/hate relationship with it. I’m enjoying my work, which not a lot of people can say, and I’ve got some great friends here, which really helps.
I love the energy of the city and knowing there is always something happening – be it live music, yoga in the park, exhibitions and museums – you can never really be bored here.
I’m fascinated by culture, and so always looking to do and see new things. I do, however, find the winters very long and difficult, and of course I miss my family and friends all the time.
I plan on sticking around for a while, but I don’t know if I will settle here for good – I think everyone says that, though.
You mentioned being the only female in your college course and working in a mostly male-dominated industry. Has there been a shift in thinking in recent times from your perspective?
I think there has definitely been a shift in society, which was badly needed. There have been some deeply disturbing situations come to the forefront of the media in that past couple of years, which have caused such a stir, and hopefully will propel more awareness across the board.
As a female working in a male-dominated field, you have to be prepared to be assertive at all times. There are some times where I may be made feel undermined but it is so important to know yourself, your worth and value and never let anyone take advantage of your skill set.
I think at the end of the day it shouldn’t come down to gender but someone’s skill set, their value to the company and working attitude. Unfortunately, pay gaps and other issues do still exist but I have to say I receive the utmost respect within my circle.
What are your longer-term ambitions?
I am blessed in my current job as I have a the best of two worlds – working within the record industry and creating content for radio, for over a million American daily listeners – which is a huge step up from creating radio shows for a local community radio station in Ireland.
I have had many career highlights thus far, working with the amazing DJs on our station like Drew Carey and Jesse Malin to name a few, also producing for The Tom Petty Station on Sirius XM Ch3 and working with the likes of Jacob Dylan and Glen Matlock have been pretty cool. Also being able to have some of the amazing new Irish talent played on the station like Otherkin, Thumper, Fontines DC and Munky has been a huge thrill.
Looking forward, it’s safe to say there are many exciting things ahead since SiriusXM pairing with Pandora. So it’s incredibly exciting to be involved with such a huge media company.
There are so many new and developing trends in both music and technology, so as they advance, it is very exciting to be part of the journey and see what will happen next.
I guess my long-term ambitions would be to maybe have a radio show of my own someday, or to have an indie record label would be very cool, but right now I guess just keep learning and keep improving on what I am going.
For now just keep my head above water and